Workshop on Danish colonialism and new publications

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The primary agenda of the workshop at the University of Copenhagen was the discussion of the way national historiography has treated colonial history in Denmark. A few recent publications and research initiatives were debated at the transdisciplinary workshop “Koloniale og postkoloniale fortællinger: Metodiske og teoretiske overvejelser” at SAXO (University of Copenhagen) 30 October. Speakers were invited to discuss the extensive anthology Scandinavian Colonialism and the Rise of Modernity (2013) and Lars Jensen‘s latest book Danmark. Rigsfællesskab, tropekolonier og den postkoloniale arv (2012).

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Jensen’s book has received mixed reviews and especially historians have criticized Jensen for his methodological handling of sources and focus on criticizing previous works without providing clear alternative approaches. The discussion between Jensen and scholars who have reviewed the book, such as Søren Rud, Niels Brimnes, Søren Ivarsson and Rasmus Sielemann along with the rest of the invited discussants was characterized by a fruitful exchange of interdisciplinary points of view. The questions of the reproduction of a uniform Danish point of view with too little inclusion of other voices and the familiar objections to Said’s Orientalism (that Jensen has used as model for the book’s approach) formed the discussion together with questions as to what extend the West is using such post-colonial history writing as a catharsis. The book has provided scholars in the field of the history of representation and post-colonial studies with new perspectives in the Danish context. The work on the Danish-Greenlandic relation can be supplemented by the extensive work of e.g. Kirsten Thisted.

One of the reviews – by historian Peter Yding Brunbech – can be read at Historie-Online.

Scholars from the National Museum, Universities of Aarhus, Roskilde and Copenhagen as well as publishers were present at the event. My own paper turned the perspective to a view from within a former dependency, Iceland, and focused on the way a crypto-colonial approach can help open up shadow narratives and the agendas behind favored questions. It fostered a discussion about micro states, the knowledge about other/former members of the Danish Kingdom and the importance of shadow narratives in nation building – discussions I am sure we will continue for quite some time.

Present were also representatives of the project group working on a multi-volume work about Danish colonialism to be published by GAD. Many participants objected to the fact that the volumes are divided by geography rather than facilitating a transverse theme based and comparative analysis. Furthermore questions were raised as to the consequences of not dedicating a volume to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The two countries have played important roles in relation to other dependencies and to the development of narratives of danishness. In order to draw up a more complete and dives image of Danish colonialism it would also be fruitful to include analyses of the ways other dependencies and colonies have influenced narratives in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

The workshop was arranged by the networks: Denmark and the new North Atlantic: Identity Positions, Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage (TORS) and Colonial Policing, Law and Penal Practices (Saxo).

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